GREETINGS from VARANASI, INDIA!
Its me again - here to enrage you with the great time I am having on my world tour.
Leaving Atlanta, I flew to Delhi, via Frankfurt. On my 6 hour layover, I was able to meet up with some of my former KO colleagues now living in Frankfurt. It was great to see both John & Elizabeth McBurney and also Michael Lauer who both left Coke long before I did and are all doing well in their current endeavors which gives me hope after I decide to stop this extended vacation.
India is the same which I remember from a year ago when I was here on vacation with my twin brother Steve and his friend. It still smells, the people still look at you as a walking $100 bill, they still pester you asking which country I am from and if I have a country coin for them or a school pen. I tend to reply I am a Pakistani or a Chinese which gives them first a look of confusion then a look of amusement when they know I am screwing with their minds. After they are clear, I then ask them how much a Rickshaw is to place 200-300 KM away which gets them all confused again.
All has gone relatively smooth other than the scam we got hooked into the night we arrived. The following is advice for anyone coming to India. No matter what travel agents tell you about Hotels being booked, they are not. Our taxi driver from the airport claimed he didn't know where our hotel was so he stopped off at a supposedly "Govt. Tourist Office". They asked if we had a reservation and we said No. That was our mistake. He proceeded to tell us that a convention was in town and all hotels were booked. We called every hotel in my guide. He dialed, I spoke. What I didn't realize till later that I was actually talking to the another guy in the next room. It was 3 in the morning and I was too tired to realize it. They eventually found a "higher priced" hotel but since there were 4 of use sharing, it didn't break the budget too bad. I am much wiser now and don't trust a one Indian who come to me willing to help. I have found none that don't want something in return.
Speaking of budgets. I have been pretty good at keeping to mine so far. I spend no more than 150 rups ($3) a day on hotels and 100 rups ($2) a day on food. The most money I have spent so far has been on Trains as I have gone from north to south and back to the north. I did a quick computation the other day which showed I traveled over 7300 KM (4500 Miles) by train for a total cost of $107. Trains are def the cheap alternative to seeing India. It is great to just sit on the open doors and watch India go by. You really see the Indian way of life... maybe too much... especially in the mornings when everyone is doing their dirty deeds... I don't think I need to explain further.
After Delhi, my first task was to get to the beaches of GOA to warm up and get some color back to my skin. On my way down, I had to stop in Bombay to say HI to Anita Paymaster who was one of my brothers friends when he was working there. Just wanted to say THANKS again Anita for the hospitality.
There are many places in Goa to choose. There is the rave scene, the mass German tourist scene, the hippie scene, and more. I chose ARAMBOL for its peace and quiet (not for its hippies). It was great, the water was warm and there were few people to ask me Which Country! I took the time on the beach to read my India book and roughly plan my attack!
I took the "Sleeper Bus from Hell" ride from Goa to HAMPI. I vowed I would only ride on trains again. Hampi is a great little village with temples all dispersed among huge granite stones. Kind of reminded me of the Olgas in Australia. Here is where I met the first and only other American traveling. Mostly I meet Germans, Dutch and British but no Americans.
I kept heading south to Bangalore, Mysore, Madurai and eventually made it to Cape Comorin - the southern tip of India. This is where 3 oceans meet (Arabian Ocean - West, Indian Ocean - South, Bay of Bengal - East). You could actually see 3 different colors of water. The Cape is the 2nd most sacred spot in India for pilgrimages. (Varanasi where I am now is the most sacred.) Other than the sunrise and sunset and the heat, there really isn't much down there so we only needed a day. (It was getting to be in the 100's F and climbing daily.)
I then had a 40 hour (2 overnights) train ride to Calcutta. It actually wasn't too bad because you meet lots of interesting India people and it gives you a chance to talk to them. Calcutta is also an interesting city and definitely full of people. You can really see relics of its colonial past when the British made Calcutta the capital.
On the train I thought about some thing I learned in India:
1) On the road the following is the pecking order: Cows/Trucks/Busses/Cars/Motorcycles/Rickshaws/People/Dogs/Chickens. No matter who has the "legal" right of way, the bigger vehicle always continues on at his speed and pace. The others must wait.
2) Beggars aren't always "in need". At one of the many train stops, an old man got on and proceeded down the train very slowly, limping all the way and begging for money. He really did look pitiful. All of a sudden, the train started out of the station and the man quickly was able walk and almost run down the aisle so that he could exit the train. He then leapt from the moving train like he had been doing it all his life.
3) Indians have no concept of lines or place in line. I got stuck in Bangalore at the railway station buy some tickets. The computer went down for 1 hour. I was number 2 in line. In the next hour more than 15 people tried to cut in front of me. They would stand there like they had all the right and try not to notice me. I would let them stay for a few minutes to let them think they had "won" but then would promptly kick them back to where they belonged - at the end of the line!
After Calcutta, I took the overnighter to Varanasi which is India's most holy city located on the Ganges River. It is a fascinating city. Its 2+ million people only live on one side of the river. They say if you die on the other side, one get reincarnated as a donkey. Likewise, if you die on the 'right' side, you skip all reincarnation (no donkeys, cats, cows, etc) and go straight to "heaven" or the Hindu equivalent. The city is made up of 15 or so GHATS. There are the washing/laundry ghats, the bathing ghats, and the all important burning ghats. You may ask what are they burning??
Here the dead are burned & the ashes thrown into the holy Ganges river. The funeral goes something like this: The body is carried through the streets via whatever means available - bicycle, rickshaw, stretcher, etc down to the burning ghat. It is placed in the Ganges and water is splashed on it. The body is left on the steps while the men go to register the death with the authorities, discuss how much wood is to be bought. A 3 hour burning takes up to 200 Kg of wood and at 120 rups ($2.70) per Kg, it is not cheap for many Indians. The wood is stacked and the body placed on it. The oldest son or youngest son depending on whether a man or a woman died then shaves his whole head, buys part of an eternal flame and then sets the whole thing on fire. It starts slowly at first and eventually engulfs the body.
This goes on 24 hours a day with up to 10 burning at any one time. As we were watching one of them burn, the cloth surrounding the body burned away. I guess there was some tension in the legs but all of a sudden, two legs spread out and stuck out from the fire. It was quick hilarious but morbid at the same time. On my photo web page, I have uploaded a few pictures. In one of them, they are about to start the burning but if one looks close, you can make out the head of another that is burning next to it.
Mary Kay this part is for you. In the 4 days in Varanasi, I saw 2 dogs, 1 body (couldn't tell if it was a man or woman), and 1 Sadu in the Ganges. Sadus (India's very holy men), Children under 12, people bitten by snakes or who have small pox, lepers & poor people who can't afford wood are simply thrown in. The Sadus are the only ones who go through a special ceremony and they are placed in a box and sunk to the bottom. We did not hear this, we saw this. We happened to be walking by and stumbled upon the ceremony. The whole process of last rites lasted about a half hour. They then tried to put him in the box but mass pandemonium broke out. Everyone had a better idea of how to put him in the box and where to place the stones, how to shut the door of the box and how to place it on the boat. They eventually made it and rowed it out into the middle of the Ganges and pushed it overboard. I wonder how many boxes are under there right now?? Remembered the Indians bathe, swim and drink this untreated water. Hmmm...
The last interesting thing I did in Varanasi was sit and talk to two of these Sadus for an hour. A young Indian sat with me and translated everything. I was blessed and told I would have a wife by the end of the year!!! I guess we will see about that. Then they saw my Oakley sunglasses and wanted to try them on. They did and looked quite hilarious and I showed them the picture on the digital camera which they thought totally amazing. The pictures are on the website but I must warn that they might be offensive to some people. The grey ash covering their bodies is a way to protect their skin.
My last stop in India was Khajaraho. It is 120 Km from the nearest train station so one must take a bus. Another ride from hell. This short journey lasted over 4 1/2 hours of bouncing through every pothole around. The temples are known for its erotic images all carved in hard stone (no pun intended). In addition to the images, however, the temples themselves are quite nice to visit and view.
I am now back in Varanasi about to catch my flight to Kathmandu in Nepal. I have planned a 15 day trek to the base camp of Mount Everest. The itinerary goes something like this:
01 day we will fly to Lukla and Start trek to Phakding
5 hours from Lukla. -6- hours (2804m)
02 day we will Trek To Namche Bazar. 7 hrs (3440m)
03 day this is our acclimation day and we can hikes around Namche.
04 day Trek To Khunde- Khumjung. (3801m) 6 hrs
05 day Trek to Tengboche. (3863m) 6 hrs
06 day Trek To dingboche. (4343m) 5 hrs
07 day Acclimatization day with optional hike to Chukung.
08 day Trek to Lobuche. (4930m) 5 hrs
09 day Day hike to Kalapattar Everest viewpoint and Trek around Everest base camp. (5500m)
10 day Trek back to Pangboche. (3900M)
11 day Trek Back to Phortse. (3847M)
12 day Trek Back to Namche.
13 day Trek back to Lukla.(2611M)
14 day Fly Back to Kathmandu.
Even with all the trekking I did in NZ, I don't think anything has quite prepared me for what I am about to undertake. I guess all I can say is pray and wish me luck. I will tell you how it goes when I get back.
I miss all of you and hope to hear from you soon. There are some of you I haven't heard from in awhile so I don't know if your e-mail is still valid. A reply would be grateful and news about yourself would be even better. As usual, if you want off this mailing, please let me know.
All the best, MIKE